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Full text of "Method and style in restoration"

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METHOD 



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RESTORATION 




THE COOPER UNION MUSEUM 
FOR THE ARTS OF DECORATION 



Acknowledgment 

In assembling materials and soliciting advice in connection 
with the exhibition, the Museum is once again made aware 
of the unfailing generosity of its friends in providing not 
only objects needed to present an exhibition in its fullest 
scope, but also in offering unstinting quantities of that even 
more precious commodity, time. To all its friends, and 
particularly to those who are a part of the present exhibition, 
the Museum extends its grateful thanks. 



Copyright 1961 by the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration 



Vyrganized in honor of the annual meeting in New 
York of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the 
Museum's exhibition is presented concurrently with an exhi- 
bition, "Preservation: the Heritage of Progress," especially 
prepared by the National Trust and which, following this 
initial showing, will be circulated as a traveling exhibition 
by the American Federation of Arts. 

The Museum has gathered a small but representative 
group of objects associated with a number of individual sites 
included in the National Trust exhibition, to accompany its 
showing at the Museum, and the following lenders of these 
are given special thanks for their generous assistance. 

Casey Jones Railroad Museum, Jackson, Tennessee 

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine, 
Florida 

Jackson County Historical Society, Independence, Missouri 

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harris- 
burg, Pennsylvania 

The James Monroe Memorial Foundation, Fredericksburg, 
Virginia 

The Nation Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the 
State of Colorado 



Lenders to the Exhibition 

American Institute of Interior Designers, National Committee 
on Historic Preservation 

American Jewish Historical Society, New York, N. Y. 

Anonymous 

Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N. Y. 

Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia 

Elinor Merrell, New York, N. Y. 

Ginsburg & Levy Inc., New York, N. Y. 

Museum of the City of New York, New York, N. Y. 

New- York Historical Society, New York, N. Y. 

New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, N. Y. 

Mrs. Samuel Schwartz, Paterson, New Jersey 

Sleepy Hollow Restorations, Tarrytown, N. Y. 

Staten Island Historical Society Museum, Richmondtown, 
Staten Island, N. Y. 

State of Illinois, Department of Conservation, Springfield, 
Illinois 

The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, 
Boston, Massachusetts 

Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island 



To Make the Restoration Live 

The desire to re-create the atmosphere of a worthy site from 
the past is a coraimendable one, for it springs from a wish to 
conserve and record our nation's history and national style 
for future generations. America's heritage is one for pride, 
as it stands unique in time not only historically, but also as 
a contribution to the world's social development and, most 
important from the present point of view, for its evolution 
of a recognizable national style. Each restoration provides 
an opportunity to conserve some aspects of this heritage and 
to comment on personages and attitudes of our collective 
past, no matter how recent. A survey of existing restorations 
of sites from the earliest colonial era to the recent past will 
show an observer that even the most literally transplanted 
ways of life were, through adaptation to a young culture and 
through the diversity of cultural influences here, subtly 
altered into an American way. 

The concept of America as the world's melting pot, a 
term happily coined by Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, ordi- 
narily comes to mind in relation to the enormous population 
expansion of the igth Century. But it remains perennially 
the most concise descriptive term, for from earliest coloniza- 
tion of that land which is now the Eastern seaboard of the 
United States, a mixture of nationalities was accepted and, 
except in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, frequently encour- 
aged. As important centers of commerce, Philadelphia and 
Newport provided the chance for a quick success to industri- 

In the following pages, objects included in the exhibition are referred to by the 
symbol '-'. 



6 

ous immigrants, whether English, Dutch, French, German, 
Scotch from Scotland or by way of Ulster, Irish, Swedish, 
Finnish, Swiss or Jews from Portugal. The Dutch settlers 
of New York were tolerant of a diversity of national influ- 
ences, and the social centers of the South with an economy 
of agriculture and trade, were no less receptive. 

The Colonies early set themselves apart from some aspects 
of European societies. It was no less usual in the later 1 7th 
century or early 18th century for an immigrant to rise in a 
decade or two from a simple and often illiterate craftsman 
to a position of wealth and prestige than in the mid- and 
late 1 gth century. Indeed, with less competition in the earlier 
times, such was the rule rather than the exception. 

Commerce acted as a leveller of American society. It 
fostered the notion of "every man as good as the next man" 
regardless of his birth, and his success or failure depended 
on his place in this commercial society. With an equitable 
balance of agriculture and trade America avoided a peas- 
antry such as Europe had always accepted as inevitable. 
The crop planter in the South and the produce farmer in 
Pennsylvania or Connecticut alike farmed for a profitable 
market, and the world's goods were available to him in 
return. America's ships sailed the world over, and necessities 
as well as exotica were welcomed from whatever country 
of origin. 

From earliest times an American style was established. 
No transposition of a culture, such as that in the Spanish 
colonies to the South, was possible in the English and Dutch 
colonies. 

American craftsmen early provided furnishings made in 
the image of remembered ones in Europe, though often with 
a difference. There can be no doubt that the publication of 



design books of the i8th century and the many "how to" 
books of the 19th century was given spur by the demand in 
this country. Books of designs by the famous furniture- 
makers, Chippendale," Sheraton and Hepplewhite, found 
their way to the new world, and were accompanied by a 
wide assortment of anonymous books, such as the Chimney- 
Piece-Maker's Daily Assistant, or, a Treasury of New Designs 
for Chimney -Pieces ° published in London in 1766, which 
certainly guided the local American craftsman. The 19th 
century saw a fuller flowering of architectural and design 
compendia, witnessed in the many works of A. J. Downing" 
during the 1840's and Samuel Sloan° during the 1850's and 
i86o's, dealing with the construction of cottages and villas, 
and for interiors in Eastlake's Hints on Household Taste" 
and in the many magazines such as Godefs Ladfs Book° 
Such books, particularly those dealing with cabinet work 
and architecture, were widely used by skilled craftsmen, 
some of whom imparted a daring individuality to their works, 
often with consciously artful results. 

The craftsmanship of these men frequently has the quality 
of the essence of the craft, which may have initially risen 
from a conscious lack of pretension in adapting European 
styles but which was translated into an American style that 
suited a society concerned chiefly with an object's ability to 
meet the comparatively rigid requirements of daily function. 
It is thought by some that the chair of the style popularly 
called "Queen Anne" as developed in the colonies in the 18th 
century has of all chairs in time the ultimate in "chair-ness:'° 
Side by side with the waxing of craftsmen in the colonies 
the importation of the goods of the world went on imabated, 
and there appears to have been no serious competition. 
Europe and Asia were still the principal sources for ceramics. 



8 

Woven textiles of quality came from Europe, although simple 
stuffs were woven at home. However, the cry of the high 
cost of labor in this country is not new, and the technically 
more complicated and burdensome crafts were left for the 
cheaper labor of Europe and the Orient to provide. 

A desire for the goods of a world market surely did not 
originate with our American ancestors. Societies from earliest 
times have placed much store by exotic merchandise. The 
American style is set apart by its alliance of furnishings fine 
in quality, whether imported or of domestic manufacture, 
with a straightforward acceptance of the strictures of a life 
lacking conveniences. Every outpost had houses of elegance, 
yet all but a very few made a virtue of the practical and 
the necessary. 

This factor is of significant importance to those who under- 
take the treacherous task of preservation and restoration, 
for it persists in our cultiure even to the present. The osten- 
tatious is still suspect, but can be accepted no matter how 
outrageous if tempered with a practical rationalization. 

There is danger in romanticizing. Our ancestors who 
peopled these sites were extraordinary men in that they were 
colonizers and immigrants. Certainly James Oglethorpe or 
William Penn were considered eccentric among contempo- 
raries of their social class. Comparable personalities from 
the 19th century at the height of its production excesses, 
men who had the courage of their convictions in building and 
furnishing their homes and public places, are paid a meagre 
tribute if their houses reflect no more to us than that they 
were paragons of good taste. "Sunnyside," Washington Irv- 
ing' s house on the Hudson, reveals in the quality of its 
atmosphere the shaping of Irving himself, a sensitive man 
with all the romantic virtues of his day; all factors, and 



information about these component elements are available 
to its restorers through a number of documentary sources. ° 

To make the restoration live: this is the problem — a prob- 
lem most closely allied to that of the designer of settings 
for a motion picture. The stage designer is farther removed. 
His setting comes alive with the actor, and he plans it most 
successfully when he removes all properties and furnishings 
except those necessary for action or for visual emphasis. 

The motion picture set designer, however, is frequently 
called upon to propel the action. Frequently much of a story 
is told by a vista, the crossing of a threshold, the survey of 
a room, the camera focused on a still life of furniture, or 
even an object. The appointments of such vignettes, whether 
historical or evocative, from past times or the present, must 
be convincing if the film has any pretensions at all, and the 
amount of research involved is prodigious. 

These research sources and techniques might well be a 
help in the work of restoration, for a similarity of purpose 
is apparent. But eventually the designer for film has an 
actor as an ally which the restorer of an historic site does 
not. Whatever the purpose, the task of undertaking to restore 
a building of historic or esthetic importance is a formidable 
one, full of many pitfalls, and important decisions are neces- 
sary at the very outset. 

It would be a relatively simple matter to consider only the 
architectural aspects, and restore the exterior, for documen- 
tation of so important a work as a building is usually readily 
available. In addition, a building as such avoids the necessity 
to associate it with human habitation since it provides enough 
interest to a visitor through the statement and interplay of 
its form and mass. But this is also true of a monument. The 
desire to provide the drama of discovery impels those who 



10 

recreate houses of the past to restore the interiors in as much 
detail as information permits or as uninformed fancy dictates. 

The purpose of the restoration must be fully apprehended, 
for any one site can provide many facets of interest; it can, 
as example, at the same time be of historic and esthetic worth 
and express characteristics of social position, geographical 
locality and era. Whatever the category, however, it is desir- 
able that its public be exposed to the evocation of another 
time, and personalities and methods will vary as much 
as places. 

For each project by its nature is unique. It is through its 
individuality that each restoration gives the best clues to its 
nature. Research must obviously begin with the site. Vestiges 
of what once existed are left, and a good researcher is re- 
quired to know where to look, how to authenticate what is 
found and when to believe the evidence of his own eyes. Such 
relatively minor-seeming exercises as determining types of 
nails° employed or the distinctions between "Dutch" and 
"Colonial" bricks° can, as was achieved, for example, with 
judicious care at Richmondtown on Staten Island, eliminate 
basic errors at the start of restoration projects. Furnishings 
in the building can frequently be documented through wills 
and inventories as well as family records and papers of all 
kinds that are part of every household and that often give 
evidence in plenty. Then the interior itself provides telltale 
vestiges of early condition. Fragments of wallpaper and 
paint° sometimes are found imbedded in cracks around or 
under moldings. Marks of incomplete removal of earlier 
arrangements leave their useful evidence. ° If a radical resto- 
ration is intended, and the additions of later times are to be 
erased, stripping of the house to timber or brickwork in places 
may be necessary to find clues. 



11 

Excavation by trained archaeologists has become a fre- 
quent practice, particularly for the authentication of a large 
site or complex of buildings. Much of interest can be learned 
through this method about both the interiors and the environ- 
ment, for if an old trash heap is found it provides a wealth 
of information about objects used in the household — shards 
of plates and kitchen wares, cast-off bottles and jars, nails 
and hardwares, toys, lamps, buckles and tools, many of which 
can be identified by comparison with known objects.^ This 
is perhaps the first and most fundamental use restoration 
projects make of museums, where the least fallible answers 
to questions of date and provenance may be obtained. It is 
revealing to know that British soldiers stationed in barracks 
at the south end of Manhattan during the Revolutionary War 
used salt glazed table wares° of the same stylish pattern as 
that used by a prosperous and notable family in Tarrytown,° 
as may be seen among the many shards excavated during 
the restoration at Van Cortlandt Manor. Indications of a 
family's thrift or of social position or its sentiment for long- 
cherished possessions, can be had by recognizing that what 
in one household would be thrown out because of damage,° 
in another was repaired and treasured, witnessed perfectly 
in a mended jug° to which was given a new silver handle, 
elaborately supported by circular bands, and a chained silver 
cover, prolonging its useful life. 

Some mobile furnishings of a building are often found 
either on the site, perhaps in a servant's room, an attic or an 
outbuilding, or, if they were treasured pieces, with members 
of the family. The contents of a house, dispersed at an auc- 
tion, sometimes linger in its neighborhood for several gener- 
ations. The more expendable, the more perishable, the more 
fashionable, the meaner objects are those most likely to have 



12 

disappeared with changing fashions and modern improve- 
ments. A consequent truism is that those buildings most 
easily restored are from families with a tradition of conserv- 
atism in living habits, a bit old fashioned in their time, not 
easily influenced by foibles of the day and, for good measure, 
meticulous in recording social and business events. 

Once the artifacts, whether built in or movable, major or 
trivial, have been inventoried, gaps will be apparent. It is 
here that documents of all sorts become useful for although 
it is beyond expectation that a household should be preserved 
intact, written and pictorial records usually exist if any 
legacy of household furnishings devised by will is left at all. 
For example, the Alexander Papers," in the possession of 
the New- York Historical Society, reveal through an invoice 
the traffic in calico and silks in the second quarter of the 1 8th 
century. Bills, inventories and correspondence frequently are 
sources giving indications of missing furnishings. 

But documentation comes from diverse and unexpected 
places. At some point in the progress of the restoration on 
the spot evidence is exhausted, and sources outside the con- 
fines of the site are sought. Smrprising they sometimes are. 
Specific details of the furnishings of a house have been found 
in gossipy correspondence of visiting friends or relatives. 
Such reports at times tell of the placement of furniture or 
of the planting of a garden. Architectural plans and eleva- 
tions, including plans for a drainage system,° for one of 
colonial America's most important houses, Tryon Palace, 
built in the late i8th century in North Carolina, came to 
light after being preserved in the relative seclusion of a 
private collection for almost two centuries. A tiny drawing^ 
by a young lady artist who recorded her holiday in the Cats- 
kills with spirited and precise sketches served for the restora- 



13 

tion of outbuildings that had later been obliterated by an 
additional wing to Washington Irving's "Sunnyside." 

Such aids are rare, though, and frequently occur by chance. 
Much more common is a partial indication of kind, color, 
material or style with not much in addition, and here the 
real detective work begins. Museums and libraries become 
the allies of the researcher; his sources of authentication are 
augmented immeasurably. Styles of window draping may 
be found not only in books° contemporary to the desired 
period, but as decoration on porcelain," on textile" or on wall- 
paper." Specific examples are to be found in a cream pitcher" 
and a French wallpaper" dating from 1860-70. Paint finishes, 
graining, marbling, the design of window blinds or board 
valances can be found in books," salesmen's sample cards" 
and objects themselves. Fragments of ceramics, metal and 
glass can be identified by comparison with whole objects." 
Catalogues and advertisements, such as the 1830 advertise- 
ment of Ball and Price Blind Factory" with a scene showing 
the selling of stenciled valances, are a trove of information, 
as are collections of tools. Design drawings are a good source 
of help, for they frequently record the fashionable (hence 
quickly unfashionable) tastes, give a sense of color prefer- 
ence of a period without the distortion of fading (as actual 
textiles, rugs and wallpapers will do), and often are dated. 
With its colored engravings of contemporary interior fur- 
nishings. Smith's Cabinet-Makers <& Upholsterer's Guide ° by 
George Smith, London 1826, is the perfect example. 

Research takes the restorer further and further into areas 
of choice and herein is the most perilous part of the project. 
The restoration will breathe, will provide an adequate sense 
of reality, if such choices are judicious. However, care is 
necessary that what is preserved is befitting to the site, and 



14 

not just a dramatic trick. Most difficult to overcome is a 
desire to visit upon the restoration today's esthetic concepts, 
for fashions in "good taste" change continually. One genera- 
tion finds color combinations of blue, pink, orange and red 
hues fashionable,^ while another considers only a studied 
relationship of color acceptable. The fads and fashions of 
another time are important indicators of direction, and the 
more transient they have been the closer our contact with 
the personalities whom they reflect. Curtains and valances 
of paper,° such as those found on Long Island and now owned 
by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiqui- 
ties, somehow seem to make more specific personal comment 
than do those composed of more customary cloth. Local fac- 
tors offer another means of evoking a proper authenticity. 
The demands of climate and geography sometimes provided 
peculiarly regional methods of meeting them. So, too, with 
ethnic or regional usages; they must be considered if for no 
other reason than the proper atmosphere they contribute. 

The Museum has chosen to suggest in its exhibition the 
kinds of problems involved in the restoration of interior and 
exterior environments, and research sources for their solu- 
tions, in order to acquaint its public with the infinite nature 
of restoration research and to suggest further research possi- 
bilities to those who are already involved in the work of 
preservation and restoration. The re-creations of sites of the 
past are increasingly more thorough than at an earlier time 
and less and less sentimentalized. But each project is such 
an enormous undertaking that once the exhausting program 
of architectural restoration is done, the environment, that no 
less important aspect of restoration, becomes by weight of 
effort secondary to the architectural problem, and is hur- 
riedly and often insensitively re-created in such a way that 



15 

the result is little different from a department store's "period 
rooms." Restoration has, surely, an obligation to look toward 
wider horizons. 

Christian Rohlfing 



COOPER UNION MUSEUM 

COOPER SQUARE, NEW YORK 

14 OCTOBER THROUGH 17 NOVEMBER, 1961 



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